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Strategic Plan Research Investments

In September 2018, we announced our plans to invest $50 million in research and creative works over the next five years to support and address grand challenge problems, foster collaboration systemwide and to provide instrumentation to enhance faculty research. After a formal proposal process with more than 115 proposals submitted, we’re pleased to share the selections for this year’s strategic investments. These projects will be funded up to $20.5 million, with $11 million from UM System and the remaining funds from the four universities.

Selection of these projects demonstrates our collective commitment to support our highest priority: the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute. These projects will be critical to boosting the collaboration and infrastructure investments that are needed to grow extramural funding and secure center-level national grants for our universities. We also expect philanthropic support from donors and industry partners to expand the scope and outcomes for these projects.

Seven of the projects, asterisked, also represent strong collaborations among two or more of our universities. These projects bridge gaps by bringing together our brightest minds to leverage research strengths.

We look forward to seeing the outcomes of these strategic investments that will achieve excellence in research and provide meaningful economic and workforce development to Missouri and beyond.    


Mun Y. Choi, UM System President
Mark A. McIntosh, UM System Vice President for Research and Economic Development
Alexander N. Cartwright, MU Chancellor
C. Mauli Agrawal, UMKC Chancellor
Mohammad Dehghani, Missouri S&T Chancellor
Thomas F. George, UMSL Chancellor

Research that supports the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute

*Establishment of the NextGen Data Analytics Center
Praveen Rao, UMKC; Prasad Calyam, MU
Co-PIs: Zhu Li, Viviana Grieco, UMKC; Peter Tonellato, Deepthi Rao, Prasad Calyam, MU; Sanjay Madria, Missouri S&T; Timothy Middelkoop, Kannappan Palaniappan, Satish Nair, Ye Duan, Trupti Joshi, MU

The traditional model of a central supercomputer resource that serves the majority of campus users falls short of the new reality in which collaborative, interdisciplinary and highly data/computation-intensive resources are not always within campus boundaries. This project will support a “community-scale” research computing approach that will advance systemwide research and education collaborations and seamlessly integrate local and remote resources, directly supporting the NextGen Precision Health Initiative in addition to many other research collaborations across the UM System. This center will be the first of its kind in the UM System, capable of analyzing and storing massive datasets, bringing new capabilities to our researchers and students in an era of the rapidly growing demand for data scientists. In the coming months, university leaders will coordinate with Drs. Rao and Calyam and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment with donors and industry partners.

*Center for Glass Science and Technology
Richard Brow, Missouri S&T
Co-PIs: Ming C. Leu, Julia Medvedeva, Julie Semon, S&T; Yezaz Ghouri, MU

This proposal is to purchase equipment and create facilities for a Center for Glass Science and Technology (CGST), including an electron microprobe that will significantly enhance research capabilities across the UM System; thermal, mechanical, and optical characterization equipment; and an upgrade and expansion of glass preparation facilities. The CGST will build on Missouri S&T’s previous success in glass research, such as the development of TheraSphere® and Mirragen®, by providing the tools and collaborative space necessary to solve problems in biomedical and materials science research.

Radiopharmacology Core
David Robertson, MU
Co-PIs: Jeff Smith, Silvia Jurisson, Jeffrey Bryan, Tom Quinn

MU is the only university in the United States to have brought three FDA-approved radiopharmaceuticals to market, demonstrating our position as a national leader in radiopharmacology. This project aims to build on that success by providing critical infrastructure and collaborative expertise to researchers who have ideas that can attract national funding, but lack the personal expertise or laboratory facilities to fully develop a radiopharmaceutical product.The long-term vision is to develop a research pipeline where radiopharmaceutical agents can be developed by faculty across the system, tested in cell cultures and small animals at the Institute for Nano and Molecular Innovation (INMI), then in large animals at the Veterinary Health Center, with eventual first-in-person studies at the NextGen Precision Health Institute.

Missouri Resource for Cryo-Electron Microscopy
Michael Chapman, MU
Co-PIs: Donald Burke, Jack Tanner, Tommi White, Lloyd Sumner, Xiaolan Yao

This proposal aims to acquire a Talos Arctica™ Cryo-Electron Microscope (EM) to equip researchers with the leading cryo-EM technology to investigate fundamental biomolecular interactions and enable pharmaceutical development, but will also have remote operation capabilities for scientists throughout the state who prefer to mail samples rather than travel to Columbia. In the coming months, University leaders will coordinate with Dr. Chapman and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment and develop a center for excellence in electron microscopy with donors and industry partners.

NovaSeq Instrumentation and Sequencing: Leveraging MU Resources for Advancing Research
Wesley Warren, MU
Co-PIs: Leslie Lyons, Robert Schnabel, Kevin F. Staveley-O’Carroll, Douglas C Miller, Peter J Tonellato

Technological advances in DNA sequencing have revolutionized biomedical science and health care approaches, but constant technological advances require continued investment. This proposal aims to maintain MU’s excellence in research by providing researchers with the Illumina®NovaSeq system, the latest disruptive technology that offers quantum enhancements in speed, volume and quality of sequencing at a significantly lower cost – an upgrade that will allow MU’s sequencing capabilities to match or exceed those of the top research universities around the world.

Imaging and Spectroscopy for Biological and Nanosciences
Cynthia Dupureur, UMSL
Co-PIs: Michael Nichols, Xuemin Wang, Lon Chubiz, Keith Stine, R. Fredrik Inglis

The Microscope Imaging and Spectroscopy Technology (MIST) Laboratory is a facility at the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a 20-year history of supporting academic and industry projects; however, this vital resource is threatened by aging equipment and a lack of dedicated personnel. This proposal aims to upgrade the MIST lab and support efforts to compete for top-tier funding opportunities, strengthen industry ties through collaboration and provide the best training for the next generation of scientists.

Accelerating Development of Glycopharmaceuticals: Establishment of the UMSL Glocoscience Consortium
Alexei Demchenko, UMSL
Co-PIs: Eike E. Bauer, Michael R. Nichols, Christopher D. Spilling, Keith J. Stine, Chung F. Wong

Carbohydrate-based drugs, called glycopharmaceuticals, are a promising but underdeveloped clinical technology for many conditions, such as microbial sepsis, a massive immune response to E. coli in the blood that causes more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. This proposal aims to establish the Glycoscience Consortium, which will cultivate a unique area of expertise within Missouri and build collaborations to accelerate the rational design, synthesis and evaluation of new glycopharmaceuticals.

Developing a Radiopharmaceutical Pipeline
Timothy Glass, MU
Co-PIs: Charles Maitz, Dave Robertson, Jeff Smith, Silvia Jurisson   

Researchers at the MU Research Reactor (MURR) developed and produced diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals in cooperation with private industry for decades, with three FDA-approved drugs already on the market. This proposal aims to develop a multidisciplinary collaborative pipeline to discover new radiopharmaceutical agents at MU and bring these new and much-needed cancer imaging and therapy agents to patients faster.

Tumor Aptamer Theranostics for Antigen Discovery, Immunotherapy and Targeted Delivery
Donald Burke-Aguero, MU
Co-PIs: Mark Daniels, Diego Avella, Jusuf Kaifi, Jeff Smith, David Porciani

Developing therapies that will kill tumors but preserve healthy tissue requires biotechnology that can target cancer-specific molecular markers, while also being safe and easy to use. This research team will address this problem using aptamers, which are DNA-like molecules that can be designed to recognize and bind a cancer target, and developing methods to bind aptamers to cancer imaging agents and radiopharmaceuticals.

Precision Medicine Approaches to Treat Heart Failure in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Kerry McDonald, MU
Co-PI: Maike Krenz
Co-Is: Gang (Gary) Yao, Christopher P. Baines, Timothy L. Domeier

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating and incurable muscle-wasting disease that occurs in 1/3,500 newborns and progresses rapidly, leading to premature death—often due to heart failure. This research team, which includes a world leader in DMD research and a renowned clinician who pioneered the use of Big Data in patient treatment, will use a multi-pronged strategy to understand heart failure progression in patients with DMD and pave the way to targeting the most effective therapy for a patient’s unique genetic background.

Exosomes and Cardiovascular Disease in Obesity and Sleep Apnea
David Gozal, MU
Co-PIs: Leila Kheirandish-Gozal, Abdelnaby Khalyfa, Jaume Padilla, Luis A. Martinez-Lemus and Camila Manrique

The global obesity epidemic also increases the prevalence of other dangerous disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and there is evidence that a synergistic relationship between these conditions can be explained at the cell level. The goal of this proposal is to establish a multidisciplinary research group who will work to understand the cellular connection between obesity and vascular disease, and also develop new targeted therapies for CVD—the number one cause of death worldwide.

Modeling Early Pregnancy in Humans
Thomas Spencer, MU
Co-PIs: Toshihiko Ezashi, Amanda Patterson, Laura Schulz, Danny Schust, Bret Ulery

Problems during early pregnancy can cause infertility, miscarriage and other complications, but this crucial period is poorly understood because it is impossible to obtain tissue samples from pregnant women in the first trimester. This project aims to develop the first model of human implantation in a laboratory dish without using human embryos, opening new possibilities to study early pregnancy, develop reproductive therapies and solve fertility problems that affect 50% of all women worldwide during their life.

Center for Vector-borne and Emerging Infectious Diseases
Deborah Anderson, MU
Co-PIs: Brenda Beerntsen, Donald Burke-Aguero, Deborah Finke, Alexander Franz, Bret Ulery

Missouri is the perfect environment for mosquitos, fleas and ticks to infect livestock and humans with the horrific diseases caused by Zika, West Nile and other viruses. In response to recent major outbreaks in humans and the lack of understanding about these diseases, this research team will study insect vectors to understand the mechanics that drive the spread of disease and develop new approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

Research that supports other priority areas for the UM System

The first three proposals below serve as co-investments for the newly created Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation, a new UM System center that includes all four universities, to support transportation research and development needs of Missouri Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

*Center for Novel Carbon-Efficient Binders for Sustainable Infrastructure
Kamal Khayat, Missouri S&T
Co-PIs: Sajal Das, Aditya Kumar, Hongyan Ma, S&T; George Zsidisin, UMSL

Concrete is the most produced and used material in the world, but production of portland cement (PC), the principal “binding agent” in concrete, is energy-intensive and responsible for about nine percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The proposed project is a collaboration between Missouri S&T and UMSL that will pioneer creation of PC-free binders that are not only more sustainable and efficient, but also stronger, more durable and longer-lasting than current PC-binders.

*Establishment of the Center for Infrastructure Preservation and Resilience
Genda Chen, Missouri S&T
Co-PIs: Jenny Liu, Suzanna Long, Zhaozheng Yin, S&T; William G. Buttlar, MU

U.S. infrastructure, including buildings, bridges, roads, tunnels and electrical grids, is rapidly deteriorating, and sustainably rebuilding this infrastructure will require coordinated and integrated collaboration. This proposal aims to leverage the UM System’s strengths—including data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence—to transform the existing decision-making process into a data-driven, streamlined approach to infrastructure design, inspection and maintenance.

*Building a Convergent Research Community for Smart City Center Procurement
Bill Buttlar, MU
Co-PIs: Bimal Balakrishnan, Tojan Rahhal, Enos Inniss, MU; Kamal Khayat, S&T; Tony Luppino, UMKC

This project seeks to advance system-level efforts to build a convergent research community around the concept of Future Urban Infrastructure, Integrating Smart Materials and Architecture – as envisioned in a National Science Foundation initiative backed by >$50 million funding. The goal of this proposal is to build and strengthen UM System research teams that can successfully compete for funding in this major national initiative, as well as gain support from industry and other agencies.

*Building Research Capacity for Geospatial-Enabled Data-Driven Discoveries (GED3)
Chi-Ren Shyu, MU
Co-PIs: Eileen Avery, Grant Scott, Lincoln Sheets, Henry X. Wan, MU; Douglas Bowles, UMKC; Stephen S. Gao, S&T

Geospatial information, such as that that maps health disparities, crime density, environmental exposures and countless other datasets, is foundational to developing solutions to our greatest challenges; however, time and effort are often wasted reorganizing and reanalyzing the same public sources of information. This highly collaborative proposal aims to create innovative tools to efficiently organize geospatial resource data in a community-based repository for use across the UM System and beyond.  

*Energy Reliability and Resiliency of Electrified Transportation Infrastructure
Mehdi Ferdowsi, Missouri S&T
Co-PIs: Jonathan Kimball, Robert Landers, Ruwen Qin, S&T; Dan Lin, MU; Jianli Pan, UMSL

This proposal requests $3.65M to construct the Electrified Transportation Distribution System Laboratory (ETDSL), which will be used by a multidisciplinary, multi-university team to research, demonstrate and test new devices and systems for electrified transportation, including light rail, electric ships, renewable energy systems and electric vehicle charging stations. This project gives the UM System the opportunity to join only five U.S universities and two European universities that have research facilities of this type.

The Missouri Language and Literacies Center
Candace Kuby, MU
Co-PIs: Matt Gordon, Mike Metz, Rob Petrone, Claire Syler, Angie Zapata   

This proposal seeks to establish a national research center that will work to understand and support Missouri’s language and literacy education needs in the modern era of social media and rapid change. The Missouri Language and Literacies Center proposes to expand their work to use contemporary arts-based learning approaches, extensive linguistics knowledge, decades of reading and writing research and teaching expertise, as well as related knowledge in journalism and digital storytelling, to invest in Missouri’s economic and civic future.

Reviewed 2019-10-16